What I’ve Learned About Creativity This Year


July 28, 2013 by Sarah Christine Bolton

The past year has been a bit of a wild roller coaster ride in a tsunami with no working seat belt. Between a new little soul joining our world, two big sisters hitting the big “teen” phase, a high strung, fiercely independent strong-willed toddler, and increasing work demands, sometimes I feel like it’s a good day if I just manage to keep someone from crapping in the middle of the living room floor.

But somehow, in the middle of the insanity, I have managed to find moments of (gasp!) creativity and artistic expression. My secret? Well, I’ve had to re-frame what I know about creativity. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Don’t be afraid to take a back seat
This past year, I’ve had the honor to be a part of a really amazing dance/film project. Seriously, check it out here (but not until you finish reading this post, dangnabit!).

But here’s the kicker: even though I’m a dancer, and a choreographer, and love to do both, on this project, I was a producer. Producer is a fancy word for contract-and-release-form-creator-and-lunch-pickup-person. I’m not complaining… it was so amazing to be a part of the incredible magic that happened during the shoots. (There were moments where everyone – crew included – had tears streaming down their faces. Beauty). But I could have been like, ah, this sucks… I’m doing paperwork… I’m picking up lunch. Lame.

But we all can’t be the star all the time, otherwise, we would all be performing on empty stages with no lights and no audience. Maybe not even on a stage… maybe in a dirt patch. Now that’s lame.

So, it’s ok to be involved in projects where you are playing a supporting role. Sometimes, it’s really good to be reminded that this world takes people of all kinds, and there is a time to be behind the scenes and a time to have your moment in the spotlight. Balance, people. And now I’m thinking of this song.

Play with children
I have lots of friends with small children. I also have lots of friends with no children. And many of the no-children people don’t necessarily like children. Which is totally cool. I often don’t like children either, and I have two. But here’s a secret: children are the most creative beings on the planet. And even if you think you are a super creative, artsy-fartsy hipster (I used to think I was one, too… it’s ok), you can learn something from kids.

They are so open to the world, and they have absolutely zero idea about what’s “right” and “wrong” in the world of creativity. (They also have issues with “right” and “wrong” when it comes to places to poop, but I digress). Now that I have kids, I play with kids a lot, and I’m constantly blown away by the creative choices they make.

Blocks. I usually build a tower. Yee haw. But my 3-year-old? She builds this intricate, winding cityscapes. I would have never in a million years thought of that. But the way she took common materials and used them in a totally uncommon way… wow. What a lesson.

Mae's cityscape made out of blocks

Waste time… but do it well
I’m human, so naturally, I have to check my Facebook newsfeed at least 14 thousand times a day. And while there is sometimes great information on there, in reality, most of it is crap. Still, it’s a fun distraction while I’m nursing a baby or trying to put a toddler down for a nap. But really, staring at an endless stream of memes and random information doesn’t really do much for my brain.

Now, on the other hand, laying in a hammock, staring up at the fractal patterns in the clouds and trees… that’s a great way to waste time. Or jumping on a trampoline with a 3-year-old. As long as I don’t have to pee when I get up there, I can often come up with some great ideas or unravel a problem I’m having. Maybe it’s the bouncing, or maybe it’s the laughing or the fresh air… whatever it is, it works.

Take time to not be creative
Sometimes, people say things like, “Oh, my gosh, your life is so awesome! You are so creative and you get do travel all the time and you are so cool.” First of all, I’m really, really, REALLY grateful that I have a job that I love (most of the time) and that I have the ability to travel.

But second of all, girl please! Have you seen my house? Why don’t you stop by on a Monday at about 5:59 p.m. when there is nothing in my fridge for dinner and a work deadline due the next morning at 8 a.m.? You would not want my life. Although, my husband at that moment may be looking for a replacement wife, so if you are female and can cook…

Seriously, though, my life is often monotonous, and boring, and exhausting. The key is to find more and more moments that can become creative and beautiful, and then I think you open yourself up to a fuller, more creative life.

Take risks
Seriously, this one is huge. Taking risks means you will end up with a lot less money. Ok, I’m joking… but not really. Sometimes taking risks means risking time, energy, and yes, even money. But it’s the only possible way you will ever accomplish anything cool.

And sometimes, when you take a risk that seems too risky, you are pleasantly surprised.

Don’t be afraid to start from scratch
I’ve had two babies in two and a half years. Let me tell you something about starting from scratch: it sucks. It’s also the most amazing moment of beautiful opportunity, because when you strip everything down and start over, you have the ability to rebuild in a better way. For example, I basically lost all of my ability to do something as simple as a push-up.

Travel. Just do it. I don’t care about your excuses… travel
This one is huge, and it’s always been a big deal for me. In the past three years, I have traveled to Berlin, Amsterdam, California, Oregon, Washington, New York, Connecticut, Indiana, New Orleans, Oklahoma, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Florida, Nashville, Chattanooga. All while pregnant and/or toting around one or more tiny children. And usually while making/promoting a documentary film of some sort. So, your excuses are a bit invalid. Take time, take money, and travel. Even if it’s a day trip two hours away. There is nothing more stimulating than a change of scenery.

Don’t care too much
I came into this world having really high expectations. For myself, for the people around me, for the world. The problem with expectations is that they set you up for disappointment. And if you aren’t careful, disappointment can destroy your entire life.

So, the key is to stay hopeful by removing expectations. For example, just a few weeks ago, I put in an application to this really amazing art exhibit. My husband and I have been big admirers of this project for years, and when the call for artists came up, we applied almost on a whim. The day I hit “send,” I took a moment to send out really positive energy with the submission, but without any expectation of anything coming of it.

And then, just a few days later, we got a letter congratulating us on our acceptance into the exhibit. I jumped and screamed a little bit on that one.

It doesn’t always work out like that, of course. Sometimes, you put out lots of positive energy, do a dance, sacrifice your first born child, etc. and you still get a big fat rejection letter. (Come over to my house… I”ll show you the pile of rejection letters I’ve received from film festivals this past year). But the point is, if you never put anything out there, you never have the opportunity to be pleasantly surprised.

Read this book

The Artist's Way book

“The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron is quietly and profoundly revolutionizing my creative existence. I bought a copy just a few weeks ago for a couple of bucks at the library book sale. It was the best thing I’ve bought all year. You can find it on Amazon for less than $15. I highly recommend it. The two main exercises (writing 3 pages of stream of consciousness and taking yourself on an artistic “date”) have been blowing my creativity out of the water.

So that’s it!

I’m still learning and growing, and some days, I feel about as creative as a dead bug on a tree stump. But creativity is my life force, and without it, I’m not that great at being a mom, a partner, or a human being. So, I keep chasing it and keep cultivating it.

Now, go create something!


One thought on “What I’ve Learned About Creativity This Year

  1. lauraleigh says:

    Terrific post friend!!!

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